Here is a tip. Say said. Say asked. Don’t say replied, explained, questioned, exclaimed. It is not necessary. It really isn’t.
“The truck’s full of What?” he said
“The truck’s full of What?” he exclaimed.
To those of you who don’t see a difference, or the few who like the bottom, that’s fine. This post is for writing, not reading. When you’re a reader, you’re the judge, not the judged. But writers are the judged.
Now, to all you writers out there asking, “why the above instead of the bottom?” I’m going to tell you.
When you read, there is two different texts that we read. There’s the body. This is the plot, the quotes, the descriptions of settings, of characters, etc. This is what the reader really is supposed to take in. Then there’s the “explaining part”. This part is the essential nails of the book that make sure the reader knows who is saying what. This is the part that the reader should not really notice. It’s invisible. The reader glances over it and is done with it.
In the first sentence, “The truck’s full of What?” he said, The body already explains everything you need to know. It explains what the person is saying and it effectively explains their surprise. The “he said” part is only there to let the reader know that the speaker is a he, or if you’ve already read up to this point, which character is speaking.
The second sentence adds the word “exclaimed.” This is not necessary at all. If the sentence is effective then we already know that he’s “exclaiming.” The reader shouldn’t have to be told that he’s shouting after the quote. It’s like we’re telling them what to picture instead of effectively presenting the story.